Tom Engelhardt and Chalmers Johnson have a must-read double hitter on the CIA on the TomGram today. Chalmers Johnson’s article, “HOW TO CREATE A WIA: A WORTHLESS INTELLIGENCE AGENCY,” follows Engelhard’s thougtfully provocative introduction.
After reporting what has been widely reported about Porter Goss’s politicization of the intelligence staff and their objectives, Johnson reminds us that this is not in fact a new behavior for CIA chiefs.
Chalmers Johnson writes:
This approach is not new, even though former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman declares that “the current situation is the worst intelligence scandal in the nation’s history.”
Back in 1973, when James Schlesinger briefly succeeded Richard Helms as CIA director, he proclaimed on arrival at the agency’s Virginia “campus”: “I am here to see that you guys don’t screw Richard Nixon.” Schlesinger underscored his point by saying that he would be reporting directly to White House political adviser Bob Haldeman and not to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.
In the contemporary White House, Goss need not bother going directly to Karl Rove since Bush’s outgoing and incoming National Security Advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, have both been working for months under Rove’s direction primarily to reelect the President.
In 1973, Schlesinger wanted to protect Nixon from revelations that the CIA had broken into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and illegally infiltrated the antiwar movement within the United States. His actual achievement was to perpetuate Washington’s idee fixe that the United States could still win the Vietnam War despite overwhelming intelligence to the contrary.
The same is likely to be true today and the outcome is likely to be similar. Just as thirty years ago, an administration refused to pay attention to its own internal intelligence assessments and lost the Vietnam War, so another administration has again wrapped itself in a fantasy bubble of wishful thinking and so is losing the war it started in Iraq.
Here are some other zinger lines that bring some historical context to the debate about The Agency:
Regardless of what it most enjoys doing, the CIA is still tasked with providing the president with accurate information to enable him to avoid a surprise attack and protect the national security.
In the foyer of the CIA’s headquarters at Langley, Virginia, is inscribed a Biblical quotation: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Loch Johnson conjectures that former Director of the CIA (DCI) Allen Dulles probably thought it meant, “And ye shall know the truth — if ye be me, or the president.”
Former DCI Richard Helms once maintained to Bob Woodward that the early warning function of the CIA “is everything, and underline everything.”
Even if true, the CIA’s power to provide such unrequested information to a president constitutes a potential restraint on his freedom of action and may on occasion totally derail his policies, particularly since such intelligence is very rarely certain or unambiguous.
Over the years the powers of the DCI to compel a president to read an intelligence estimate have been systematically diluted, and when information supplied to the president about a possible attack or any other matter under the CIA’s imprimatur has been leaked to the public, both the Agency and the intelligence have become politically radioactive.
George Bush already has serious problems in receiving feedback about the consequences of his policy choices. He acknowledges that he doesn’t read much, certainly not the major papers. He is purging the administration’s civil service and political appointee ranks of those considered disloyal.
As Tom Engelhardt writes in his opening graf:
It’s well known that Washington was originally built on a pestilential swamp. Right now, the Bush administration is in the process of draining its own “swamp” of potential critics and doubters of any sort and installing “family” members, many from George’s (and Karl’s) old Texas days, others “adoptees” like Condoleezza Rice, ever more firmly in positions of ever greater power.
I have had some luck in reaching some people from the intelligence sector who want to share their view on what is happening on the inside. So, stay tuned for that.
However, it is increasingly clear to me that if Bush’s intel operations are no longer going to provide the kind if intelligence necessary to make the tough choices in America’s security policy, others in the non-covert, non-cleared world are going to have to supplant this intelligence with sound thinking and good material in the public sphere.
The only way it seems to me to operate in this kind of environment is for private players — public intellectuals, solutions oriented think tankers, NGOs, journalists, public policy intellectuals, and others — to focus on embarrassing the idiotic assessments and decisions of a government that has made itself blind.
The second step, perhaps the most important one, is to put better ideas on the table.
— Steve Clemons